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Heinemann, E. (2000). “Fakafefine” Men Who are Like Women: Incest Taboo and Transsexuality in Tonga. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 5(2):155-183.

(2000). Gender and Psychoanalysis, 5(2):155-183

“Fakafefine” Men Who are Like Women: Incest Taboo and Transsexuality in Tonga

Evelyn Heinemann

In Tonga (Polynesia), the phenomenon of “feminine” men who grow up as girls, and who as adults present transvestite and transsexual behaviors, is widespread and known over many generations. In Tonga they are called fakafefine (like a woman) or fakaleiti (like a lady); in Samoa, fa'afa'fine; and in Tahiti, mahu (Levy, 1973; James, 1994). The Polynesian cultures can be distinguished by the high esteem in which they hold women and by the real power that women possess. The mother and the maternal clan dominate the socialization of the child, and alongside the father, the brother of the mother (motherbrother) takes on important educational tasks. This paper explores the following questions: What are the consequences of these arrangements for the psychic development of the children? What are the resulting unconscious conflicts? How can we understand these phenomena ethnopsychoanalytically?

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